4 out of 5
Label: VHF Records
Produced by: Joe Dejarnette (mixed and mastered by)
I do quite love Black Twig Pickers. Especially when the group amps up their traditional folksy stomp to speedy, punky extremes, the stuff can be infectious, in the best way, and their top albums juggle this with some doses of silly and slower and sober, but it always feels sincere in that the players enjoy what they’re playing. But: I’d be hard-pressed to pick much of their output out of an Appalachia lineup, I’ll admit.
Enter Eight Point Star – sharing Black Twiggers Mike Gangloff and Isak Howell, EPS bring in – or perhaps open the door and invite in – a more modern take on strum and thomping tunes, slowing the material down and allowing for distortion, ambience, some more experimental elements, and even pop, to meld with the material, crafting a sound that I can identify. For the most part.
Opener Winchester’s Dream is a gorgeous example of this, sweeping back and forth between pastoral folk and an approachable, catchy chorus riff, ebbing and flowing for its 8 minutes to push the tune as far as it’s reasonable to take it. It’s a good mission statement for what follows, which tends to be slightly shorter, and has several interesting transitional tracks – two songs melded together into one. A couple tracks later, we get Flowerthrower, and the maybe somewhat juxtaposed imagery there – something to observe, mapped to a more active adjective is fitting, as the track beautifully syncs a rather edgy bit of guitarism to the album’s gentle, folksy sway.
Here, the album goes rather more traditional – more strictly Black Twig Pickers territory, albeit slowed down a bit – centered around something like a (relatively) pop-rock track: Brand New Shirt. Its lyrics extole its titular wearable, so this sets a pretty lighthearted mood to things, sung out with throaty gusto by Peyton. This run of tracks is still very enjoyable, but it shifts from the more elegiac mood to the upbeat, and, again, becomes slightly less identifiable. But the performances and energy are very strong; it’s not a lull.
And EPS bounce back, rather purposefully: the latter half of Mist Came Down the Pedlar Hills / A Water Panther Speaks morphs into rather ominous ambience, and that remains intact for the succeeding tracks – Sunshine Dog’s subtle, biting edge (no pun intended?) and the excellent closer Weeping Cherry Cry, which again whips out a more rocking riff but sticks to the somber Appalachia overtones.
An absolutely exciting debut, and evolution of the BTP sound.